One day after a poll showed Anthony Weiner leading the field of Democrats for mayor, a testy exchange about Israel's territories is raising the question of whether Israeli politics will become an issue in the mayoral race for a candidate who as a congressman represented one of the most Jewish districts in the nation.
Asked on Wednesday about his previously stated view on whether Israel's presence in the territories constitutes an occupation, Weiner reiterated his position that "The status of that area is left to be decided by the people who're there."
The exhange at a celebration in Greenwich Village was captured on video and sent to The Daily Beast's Open Zion Blog, edited by Peter Beinart. When the questioner asked " "So it's not occupied by Israel?" Weiner curtly responded "I gotta tell you: there are disagreements about what constitutes the West Bank," before ending the interview.
Weiner cut his political teeth as an aide to staunch Israel supporter Chuck Schumer when he was a member of the House. He frequently refers to the Jewish state as Eretz Yisrael, which literally means the land of Israel, but is taken by many to refer to the dream of a Greater Israel that includes Arab lands.
Weiner's rise in the polls suggests that New Yorkers are past the indiscretions of social media that led him to resign from Congress in disgrace in 2011. Now, it remains to be seen if the Israel-Palestinian conflict is an important enough issue to New Yorkers at a time when so many other issues loom on which the mayor actually has an impact.
New York mayors and other politicians have a long history of appealling to Israel supporters. Michael Bloomberg visited Israel several times while in office, as did his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who was photographed riding a Jerusalem bus during a wave of bombing attacks in the mid-90s. David Dinkins and Ed Koch also visited Israel as mayor.
As a Council member and as speaker, Christine Quinn visited Israel on delegations with the Jewish Community Relations Council, as did Comptroller John Liu, and Republican former MTA chairman Joseph Lhota told The Jewish Week he is planning an Israel trip during his mayoral campaign.
"'New York City politics have always had an international aspect," says political consultant Michael Tobman, who is not involved in the mayoral race. "Remember the old adage of Israel, Italy, and Ireland? While now there's also China, India, Korea and 100 other countries in the electoral stew."
But with Orthodox Jews now making up 40 percent of the city's Jewish population, the calculus for their vote is still vital. "Can deBlasio tack left and still do well in Borough Park?" Tobman asked. "Can Weiner do well with Bukharians? Does Thompson win the secular community? Will Orthodox women vote for a lesbian [Quinn] in the privacy of the voting booth? In this Democratic Primary, all bets are off."
While New York candidates tend to be unequivocally pro-Israel they generally try to stay away from the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying matters should be left to negotiations.
The last time Weiner disputed the occupation label, he ran afoul of Americans for Peace Now, whose Debra DeLee fired off a missive reminding him that "Even Israel's Supreme Court has termed Israel's control of the West Bank an occupation. And thousands of Israeli troops man checkpoints and guard settlements dispersed across the territory."
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